WASHINGTON — Melania Trump spoke about courage on Friday — what it is and why the world needs it. Her closely watched public appearance came a day after a former Playboy model told the world details of a 10-month affair the model says she had with a married Donald Trump a decade before he was elected president.
If the relationship Karen McDougal alleges was on the first lady’s mind, she gave no hint of it.
A standing ovation greeted a smiling Mrs. Trump as she entered a State Department auditorium for an annual awards ceremony honoring non-U.S. women for acts of courage. She took her seat on stage in a plush chair and listened as State Department official Heather Nauert introduced her as a philanthropist and humanitarian who is focused on the well-being of children and who works tirelessly to raise awareness of the damaging effects of opioid addiction and cyberbullying.
Then it was Mrs. Trump’s turn to speak.
“As we recognize these incredible women, let us think for a moment about what courage truly is,” the first lady said. “Courage is the quality most needed in this world. Yet, it is often the hardest to find. Courage sets apart those who believe in a higher calling and those who act on it.
“It takes courage not only to see wrong, but strive to right it,” she continued.
The first lady added that in publicizing the honorees’ stories “we can teach young women and girls all over the world what it means to have courage and to be a hero.”
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal told CNN’s Anderson Cooper during a lengthy interview broadcast Thursday night that the affair with Trump began at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2006, while he was married to the future first lady, who had recently given birth to their son, Barron. McDougal said she ended the relationship in 2007 out of guilt.
McDougal is suing in California seeking to invalidate a confidentiality agreement with a company that owns the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer.
She apologized to the first lady during the broadcast after Cooper asked what she would say to the first lady if Mrs. Trump were watching.
“What can you say except, I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” McDougal said. “I wouldn’t want it done to me. I’m sorry.”
Mrs. Trump did not address McDougal’s claim in her remarks. Her office declined to comment.
The president’s marriage is likely to remain the subject of public fascination — as are most White House unions. On Sunday, CBS’ “60 Minutes” is set to air Cooper’s interview with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual relationship with Trump at around the same time as McDougal.
Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is looking to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 presidential election so she can discuss her relationship with Trump, which she said began in 2006 and continued for about a year.
Trump, through his representatives, has denied the women’s allegations.
Mrs. Trump was scheduled to travel with the president to their estate home in Palm Beach, Florida, where she was expected to stay through Easter, per tradition. The president and Mrs. Trump departed the White House separately for the flight to Florida, although the White House schedule released earlier had showed the couple would leave together.
As the couple left the White House on Monday for a trip to New Hampshire, photographers snapped the couple as they walked toward the presidential helicopter. Trump had a hand on her back and pulled the first lady close after she lost her footing walking across the lawn. They continued to the helicopter, arm in arm.